Cocktails & Spirits

Hey Bartender at O Cinema: A Tale of Two Mixologists

Sure, you love a well-crafted cocktail. But do you realize the passion and dedication that goes behind your Old Fashioned? Hey Bartender, a new documentary playing at O Cinema in Wynwood, goes behind the bar to tell the tale of two very different bars and the men who work there.

The film focuses on two bartenders named Steve; one an ex-marine who uses his military precision to turn out cocktails as an apprentice at New York City's Employees Only, and one an ex-bank employee who purchases a local pub in Connecticut. In between the stories, bar and restaurant legends like Dale DeGroff, Danny Meyer, Tony Abou-Ganim, and John Besh provide narrative and background. And, yes, there's also plenty of "bar porn".

We spoke with director Douglas Tirola about the film and what he learned about cocktail culture while shooting the documentary.

New Times: Though there are many bartenders and bars in your film, the story really focuses on two bartenders. How did you choose these two men as the subjects of your film?

Douglas Tirola: There are two stories in that. For years, I was a regular at a bar in New York called the Spring Lounge. I had a guy that was my bartender, he moved to Memphis. I was barless for a period of time.Then, I came across Employees Only. It was immediately my kind of place. It was a throwback to the speakeasy with great service. I had dinner, and that was how i got introduced to Steve Schneider. I liked him and the fact that he was working as an apprentice, trying to move up.

The other bar, Dunville's, is located in my hometown of Westport, Connecticut. I took my grandparents to Dunville's and there was a real sense of community there. When I started making a film about bartenders, they knew me from being a semi-regular. We did some filming there and I got to know Steve Carpentieri better and I thought it would be great to follow his story.

The art of the cocktail is making a real renaissance. Why do you think that is?

i think something happened in our culture that allowed it to take traction. Part of it is the foodie side and part is the intimacy between a bartender and a customer. I also think part of it the whole speakeasy thing that you can see in films and television. Take, for example, Mad Men. There was just a bit more naughty behavior going on then, and I think people are going back to when things were a little naughtier. Right now our society has gone past politically correct. We're eggshell correct, where you can't do anything and you can't say anything. In the 1930's through the 60's everyone had a cocktail glass in their hand and language was more seductive. Maybe when you go to a dark bar, it's a passport to relive those times...or our impression of what those times were like.

What do you really want people to know about bartenders?

people have stereotypes about bartenders. There's this image about a bartender that they wanted to be an actor or were working at some marketing firm and next thing they were stuck in a bar and can't get out. You can be a bartender and that does not put a ceiling on your intellectual ability and it doesn't mean you sit in a room with a lot of sad people.

What do you think is the difference between a bartender and a mixologist?

Mixology is the study of the craft, which in my mind means more concentration on the science than the hospitality side. For a bartender, it's about hospitality. It's about having fun. I think a mixologist cares more about the cocktail, a bartender cares more about the people and the hospitality.

Hey Bartender is playing at O Cinema through July 18. Click here for showtimes. Here's a trailer for the movie:

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Laine Doss is the food and spirits editor for Miami New Times. She has been featured on Cooking Channel's Eat Street and Food Network's Great Food Truck Race. She won an Alternative Weekly award for her feature about what it's like to wait tables.
Contact: Laine Doss